Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sex Offender Issues

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03/28/2008

http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com/

This blog is dedicated to discussion of a very emotional, controversial, and hateful subject – people who have been convicted of sex crimes (especially child molesters), and who end up being included in official sex offender registries. What's more, the point of view of this site is drastically opposed to the vast majority of sites out there that deal with sex offenders: the Sex Offender Issues blog actually dares to treat these people as human beings. Now, it's certainly true that child molesters are among the lowest scum of the earth, and quite a few of them deserve the worst punishment that could possibly be conceived for them. However, not all convicted sex offenders are inhuman, heartless monsters. And that's where the witch-hunt hysteria is taking hold in our society.

Suppose you get convicted of a sex crime, and you end up on the official sex offender registry. It could be something heinous and heart-breaking (raping and murdering a kid, for instance)…or, it could be something that might even be forgivable (you're 20 years old, and you've been convicted of statutory rape for sleeping with your 17-year-old girlfriend). The problem here is that the current outlook of society is allowing no difference between these two extremes. These days, if you're unlucky enough to end up on the official sex offender registry, your life is effectively over. Even after you serve your prison sentence, you are still branded with a scarlet letter that effectively prevents you from doing anything at all, anywhere, for the rest of your life.

Want to find a place to live? Better hope your town doesn't have a law preventing sex offenders from living anywhere within 1,000, 2,500, or even 5,000 feet (i.e. a full mile) from schools, playgrounds, day care centers, and so on. Even if you do find a place, there's still the chance that some do-gooder will start plastering the neighborhood with posters warning that you – a convicted sex offender – live there.

Want to cast a vote, as is your right in the United States? Hopefully the polling station isn't in a local school, or you could be banned from entering. What's more, you may have to wear a GPS locator device for five, ten, even twenty years after your release from prison. Your name, address, and even your employer and your job listing can be placed in the sex offender registry. And this is all open for the public view, so even if you were released from prison fifteen or twenty-five years ago, a vigilante in an anti-pedophile group like Perverted Justice could stumble across your name and address, and start warning your neighborhood that you are there, and that all the children within your neighborhood are not safe because you exist.

Is it any wonder that more and more of these people are choosing to be homeless, or simply disappearing and becoming fugitives? How can the authorities keep track of them if they've been hounded to the point where it is simply better to be a fugitive than to comply with all of this?

All this has happened to registered sex offenders, and it's barely the tip of the iceberg. Our society is moving down a path that eventually will end up dictating the following: Commit a sex crime and we'll kill you – no matter what. End of story.

And yet, for some reason this hysteria only seems to apply to child molesters. Why don't we see this treatment being applied to drug dealers who sell heroin to school children? What about white supremacists who feel it's perfectly justifiable to ruin the lives of, or even murder, immigrants and minorities simply because they're not white? But of these different classes of criminals, sex offenders are facing the worst punishment (and persecution after punishment) of all.

However, the number of sites out there that look at the issue of sex offenders is frighteningly small. That's why a blog like the Sex Offender Issues blog is a surprising alternative to those other sites that see no difference between a monster who does things to children that I don't even want to think about…and someone who has genuinely been punished and is trying to remake his life in an honest way.

Of all the subjects covered here at the High Weirdness Project, the one I've been criticized and called on the most has been this issue. The links to this subject on the Bulldada Newsblog have been called into question, and I've been accused of "defending pedophiles" because of my stance on this subject. To address this charge, I will gladly ask anyone at all to point out a link, newsgroup posting, blog posting, entry on this Web site, or anywhere in which I actually defend the actions of a convicted child molester. My concern over this issue is the way this subject is treated with the hysteria of a witch hunt: people assume that everyone dealt with here is equally guilty, and that everyone convicted of a sex crime is a heartless, unfeeling monster. I have no problem with dealing harsh justice to people like that. But to paint everyone with the same brush is unreal and unfair…even though that's what we're doing, all too often.

See also: International Child Porn Hysteria Law



For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers

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04/03/2008

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer

In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate.

During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate's bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive," which will remain on his student record permanently.

Then, as Randy sat in the principal's office, they called the police.

"I thought they were going to take me to prison," Randy said recently. "I was scared."

Prince William County school officials would not comment on Randy's case, citing student confidentiality. They said the call to police was the result of a misunderstanding.

Randy is only one of many children to be dealt with harshly as schools across the country grapple with enforcing new zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies and the fear of litigation.

The Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended last year for offensive sexual touching, or "improper physical contact against a student." In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended last year for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education. Statistics for the District were not available.

In 2006, a kindergartner in Hagerstown, Md., was accused of sexual harassment after pinching a female classmate's buttocks. A 4-year-old in Texas was given an in-school suspension after a teacher's aide accused him of sexual harassment for pressing his face into her breasts when he hugged her.

Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, said he had never come across a case of sexual harassment in elementary school in his three decades in the schools. To label somebody a sexual harasser at 6 "doesn't make sense to me," he said. "Kids can be exploratory in behavior, they can mimic what they see on TV."

Randy sat on the lower bunk in his bedroom recently and explained what happened Nov. 26 on the playground at Potomac View Elementary School. Katherine DeLeon, a classmate who regularly came over to play, was kneeling on a bench, talking to friends. He said he saw another boy race over to the girl, whack her on the bottom and run away, giggling and pretending he hadn't done it. He did it twice more, Randy said.

Randy said he thought it looked like fun, so he joined in, hitting her and running away twice. "Every time he hit her, she laughed," Randy said. "When I hit her, she told the teacher."

Katherine's mother, Margarita DeLeon, who was contacted by school officials shortly after the incident, said that her daughter didn't like being hit but that she quickly forgot about it. "We didn't pay attention to it, because we know it's just children playing around," she said. "He didn't mean anything by it. I'm upset with the school."

Claudia Castro, a preschool teacher in Alexandria, said she was shocked when officials at Randy's school called to say that he was in trouble and that they were calling the police. She later met with the principal and assistant principal. "I told them that what he did was not appropriate. And I have talked to him about it. What I don't understand is how you can make a police report on a 6-year-old. But the principal told me that they were making reports to the police every single day."

The school's incident report, provided to The Washington Post by Randy's family, says the "police were contacted" after the playground episode. Police arrived after dismissal, when Randy had already gone home. Castro said she shared the story with The Post in the hope of changing school policy.

Days before the incident, at a routine meeting with district officials, principals had been reminded to report threats and assaults to the police. "There was some confusion as to what level of threat and assault we were talking about," said Ken Blackstone, a school system spokesman.

Some officials and students said Potomac View administrators made an announcement that a new district policy required them to inform the police of student misbehavior. But Blackstone said there was no new policy. After the meeting, he said, principals were confused about when to call police. "As a result, there were too many calls that may not have been necessary because of people wanting to comply with the initial request."

"Some of the calls," Prince William police spokeswoman Ericka Hernandez said, "were about incidents the police did not have to be involved in."

Blackstone pointed to the school district's code of behavior, which states that police may be called for "offenses involving weapons, alcohol/drugs, intentional injury, and other serious violations."

Two school board members declined to comment on the case, and Blackstone would not make the Potomac View principal available for comment.

Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said suspensions and calls to the police in such cases are overkill. The correct response, she said, would be to explore whether the behavior is linked to abuse and to teach students about respecting peers and what constitutes "good touch" or "bad touch."

"There's no way these children understand what's going on. But it's been taken out of our hands. That's the difficult moral dilemma that we face," Sommers said. She blamed two Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s that enable suits against school districts for failing to stop sexual harassment as well as zero-tolerance policies aimed at middle and high school students that are applied to students as young as 5.

"We need to make sure that we follow the letter of the law, so being reasonable sometimes gets lost," she said.

But Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, said educators do have some leeway: "Zero tolerance does not mean zero good judgment."

Since November, Randy has been calling himself a "bad boy," his mother said.

Castro said school officials rejected her appeal to remove the sexual harassment incident from Randy's permanent file. And now she worries that they have branded him a troublemaker.

She points to an incident in January when Randy was suspended for three days for verbal "harassment" and inappropriate behavior. According to the principal's incident report, as Randy walked home from school, he told two girls to kiss and asked another student, "Are you gay?" and "Why are you wearing girl's boots?"

Randy and his siblings, who were walking with him that day, dispute the account. They said he teased an older boy and girl about kissing. He said if the boy didn't kiss the girl, it meant he was gay. Randy said he learned the word on TV.

School officials, citing confidentiality, declined to comment on the incident.

Castro agreed that Randy's behavior was inappropriate but worried that he is being too severely scrutinized because of the spanking incident. "My feeling is that they are picking on him," she said.

Castro said she met again with school officials and asked why, if they were concerned about Randy, he wasn't in counseling. "The counselor told me he didn't need it," she said.



VA - Mark Steyn: Attack of the preschool perverts

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04/12/2008

By MARK STEYN

Is American public education a form of child abuse? The Washington Post's Brigid Schulte reported this month on a student named Randy Castro, who attends school in Woodbridge, Va. Last November at recess he slapped a classmate on her bottom. The teacher took him to the principal. School officials wrote up an incident report and then called the police.

Randy Castro is in the first grade. But, at the ripe old age of 6, he's been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He's guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his school days – and maybe beyond.

Maybe it'll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job, and at his prospective employer's computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he'll be able to keep it hushed up until he's 57 and runs for governor of Virginia, and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed.

But that's what he is now: Randy Castro, sex offender. The title of the incident report spells out his crime: "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive." The curiously placed comma might also be offensive were it not that school officials are having to spend so much of their energies grappling with the first-grade sexual-harassment epidemic they can no longer afford to waste time acquiring peripheral skills such as punctuation.

Randy Castro was not apprehended until he was 6, so who knows how long his reign of sexual terror lasted? Sixteen months ago, a school official in Texas accused a 4-year-old of sexual harassment after the boy was observed pressing his face into the breasts of a teacher's aide when he hugged her before boarding the school bus. Fortunately, the school took decisive action and suspended the sick freak.

By the way, is that the first recorded use in the history of the English language of the phrase "accused a 4-year-old of sexual harassment"? Well, it won't be the last: In the state of Maryland last year, 16 kindergartners were suspended for sexual harassment, as were three preschoolers.

School officials declined to comment to the Washington Post on Master Castro's case on the grounds of student confidentiality. However, they did say that the decision to call the cops was "the result of a misunderstanding." And it's not like he was Tasered or anything.

When school officials call 911 because of a "misunderstanding" with a 6-year-old, the fault is theirs: He's a kid; and they're school officials who are supposedly trained and handsomely remunerated to know how to deal with children. Incidentally, the phrase "school officials" isn't quite as rare as "37-year-old teacher's aide accuses 4-year-old of sexual harassment" but it would still ring foreign to your average old-school schoolmarm in a one-room schoolhouse. Back then, schools had schoolchildren and schoolteachers and that was pretty much it. But now grade schools are full of "officials," just like the Department of Homeland Security.

So who does get a little breast and butt action in American schools these days? Obviously not your 4-year-old gropers and 6-year-old predators: The system's doing an admirable job of cracking down on those perverts.

No, if you want to get up close and personal with body parts you've got to be a "school official." The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard oral arguments in the case of Savana Redding. Back in 2003, Savana was an eighth grader at Safford Middle School in Safford, Ariz., when the vice principal, Kerry Wilson, "acting on a tip," discovered a fellow student to have a handful of ibuprofen tablets in her pocket. The other girl said she got them from Savana, who denied it. She had no tablets in her own pockets or in her backpack. Vice Principal Wilson, whose mind works in interesting ways, then decided that Savana might be hiding the ibuprofen in her cleavage or her crotch.

So, without contacting the girl's parents, he ordered a school official to strip-search Savana. She was obliged to expose her breasts and "her pelvic area." If Vice Principal Wilson were a 4-year-old preschooler who had been involved in a stunt like that, he'd now be a registered sex offender for life. But fortunately he's a "school official" so if he decides to apply search techniques associated with international narcotics traffic he pretty much has a free hand to do so. After all, ibuprofen is serious stuff. As Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum put it, "It's a good thing the school took swift action, before anyone got unauthorized relief from menstrual cramps."

The policies of these "school officials" are dignified by the name of "zero tolerance." "Zero sanity" would be a more accurate description. One day we'll look back at this period of government-instituted madness and wonder why those entrusted with the care of minors (or, to be more accurate, those who enjoy a de facto state monopoly over the care of minors) were unable to do what teachers in civilized societies have been able to do throughout human history – exercise individual human judgment.

Michelle Obama called last week for Americans to pony up even more dough for their public school system. The United States already spends more per student than any other developed nation except Switzerland, and at least the Swiss have something to show for it. By any reasonable measure, at least a third of the cash dumped into American schools is entirely wasted. And, if we simply shipped every youngster to boarding school in the Alps instead, the kindergartners might have a sporting chance of making it to second grade before being designated as sexual abusers.

But I don't expect Michelle Obama to see it like that. Last week, an Obama delegate was revealed to have told her next-door neighbor's kids to come down from the tree and quit playing "like monkeys". Unfortunately for her, they were African American, so she was "ticketed" for racist speech by the Carpentersville police, and, after issuing the usual solemn statements deploring such derisive remarks, Sen. Obama removed the delegate from his campaign, had her encased in a cement overcoat and lowered into the Chicago River. He, too, operates a "zero tolerance" policy.

Amid the debris of human lives caught up in these idiocies, you can also find the ruins of an indispensable element of civilized society: a sense of proportion.



CA - O.C. deputies lied to grand jury, testimony shows.

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Of course they lied... They almost always do... Got to protect the "Good Ole' Boys!" Related stories here and here. And this is even more proof on how corrupt the "system" is. More corruption here. The average citizen, this is called "obstruction of justice" and they would be placed in jail or prison, so all involved here should be as well.

04/13/2008

Sheriff's Department employees changed stories and compared notes during the probe into the death of inmate John Derek Chamberlain.

They lied, they changed their stories and they compared notes even after being ordered not to by a special Orange County grand jury investigating a deadly beating at Theo Lacy Jail, the testimony shows.

During 45 days of grand jury prodding, members of the Sheriff's Department repeatedly hindered the probe, according to thousands of pages of transcripts made public last week. Then-Sheriff Michael S. Carona refused to answer a single question, including whether he was the county's sheriff the day John Derek Chamberlain was killed by other inmates.

Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo computer technician who was being held on suspicion of possessing child pornography, was beaten by fellow inmates over a 50-minute period near a glass-walled guard station while the ranking jailer watched television and exchanged cellphone text messages with friends, according to the grand jury transcripts.

Although the grand jury probe did not lead to criminal charges against any sheriff's employees, the transcripts show the hurdles that prosecutors faced as Carona and his troops took the witness stand.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and acting Sheriff Jack Anderson agreed that the testimony painted a deeply unsettling picture of a law enforcement agency that had broken down. One expert said the findings could erode the public's confidence in the department, the second largest in the state.

"A great part of law enforcement is public trust," said former San Francisco Police Chief Anthony D. Ribera, director of the International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership at the University of San Francisco. "Given the awesome authority that law enforcement has in our society, the issue of integrity has to be totally part of the fabric of the organization."

The special grand jury impaneled by Rackauckas spent nine months trying to get answers in the October 2006 beating at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange. Among the questions the grand jury sought to answer was whether deputies helped instigate the attack and why the Sheriff's Department decided to take the lead in the homicide investigation -- breaking a decades-old policy under which the district attorney reviewed inmate deaths.

From the outset, grand jurors were so worried about leaks from the secret proceedings that they convened at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana because the nearby Superior Court is served by sheriff's bailiffs. But transcripts show it didn't take long for testimony to be discussed among witnesses. Several had to be called back to the witness stand after prosecutors discovered they were allegedly sharing information with Deputy Kevin Taylor, who was accused by an inmate of wrongly identifying Chamberlain as a child molester -- an open invitation in jail and prisons for trouble.

Deputy Sonja V. Moreno, for example, was ordered to return two times before she finally confessed to lying repeatedly to the grand jury and passing along information to Taylor, according to the testimony. By that time, five of Moreno's friends had testified that she discussed her testimony with them too.

Moreno, a close friend and neighbor of Taylor, testified that she drove to his home and told him she was asked about 22 text messages that he exchanged with her and others during the Chamberlain attack. She said she also told Taylor that jurors asked her whether she and Taylor were more than friends. She denied any romance but later admitted to prosecutors they had once kissed but that it was not intimate, according to testimony.

Asked why she had lied, Moreno testified that she thought the information was important to Taylor, that she has a hard time keeping secrets from friends and was under stress. "I didn't go there so that I can taint an investigation or interfere with something," she said.

Special Officer Phillip Le, who was on duty with Taylor during the attack at Theo Lacy, told the grand jury that instead of refreshing his memory about the incident by reviewing his own statements to homicide investigators, he asked for Taylor's incident report instead. He said that sheriff's Det. Ken Hoffman, who was investigating the homicide for the department, gave him a copy.

Le also testified that he made a "command decision" to record over the first seven to 10 minutes of videotape he was using to document the scene after guards discovered Chamberlain had been beaten. His decision effectively erased the initial reaction to Chamberlain's injuries.

Le testified that he realized he was about to run out of videotape and decided to record over the beginning of the tape.

The grand jury was routinely stymied in its efforts to obtain records because sheriffs' officials refused to produce batches of documents, including simple policy manuals, without a legal battle. Many records that were eventually turned over had portions blacked out and hadbeen screened first by a sergeant who handled civil claims against the department. According to testimony, he admitted instructing employees how to answer certain questions.

When prosecutors asked for Taylor's background file, they were told it was missing.

Taylor had been the subject of at least two internal affairs investigations for allegedly beating one inmate and breaking the arm of another, according to prosecutors. According to the testimony of Capt. Davis Nighswonger, that is the kind of information that should have been included in his background file.

Dan Martini, then the assistant sheriff overseeing the department's estimated 7,000 background files, testified that the disappearance of Taylor's file made no sense and that he had considered bringing in the state attorney general's office to investigate. Martini was removed from his position by Carona two days before he appeared before the grand jury.

"It came to my attention that there was a, quote, 'missing' file that involved Kevin Taylor," Martini said. "It rose me out of my seat, and I said, 'We do not have missing files.' "

One of the goals of the grand jury was to determine why the Sheriff's Department chose to lead the investigation of a death in custody rather than turn the case over to the district attorney, in keeping with a 1984 agreement aimed at avoiding a conflict of interest. But their efforts were frustrated.

Prosecutors expressed exasperation with the testimony and foggy memories of then-Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky and Assistant Sheriff Steve Bishop. Both said they could not remember who made the final decision to let their own department investigate.

Contrary to earlier testimony, Galisky and Bishop told jurors that after Chamberlain died they were informed by their subordinates that the department had previously taken the lead on custodial deaths.

During her testimony, Galisky admitted she changed a memo she'd provided to an earlier grand jury that was also examining Chamberlain's death. Once changed, according to transcripts, the memo stated that the Sheriff's Department was always the lead investigative agency in jail homicides and that the district attorney played a secondary role.

During questioning, Deputy Dist. Atty. Keith Bogardis pressed Galisky on the memo.

"That's an outright lie," Bogardis said to her, according to transcripts. He then asked her to defend her actions.

"I don't think it was my intention to mislead the grand jury. I believe I was trying to respond and give them the information," she said. "Whatever changes I made in there, there was no intention to lie to them."

On her second day of testimony, according to transcripts, Galisky realized she was now not just a witness but a target of the grand jury. She immediately asserted her 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to answer further questions. She and Bishop were forced out of the Sheriff's Department in February shortly after the grand jury briefed Anderson on the findings.

Last week, Anderson suspended Taylor, Le and fellow jailer Jason Chapluk, along with Moreno and an internal affairs investigator who allegedly pressured a witness to reveal her grand jury testimony. He has promised more punishments as the department launches what he has described as the biggest internal investigation in its history.

"The fundamentals of our profession are based on truth," said Anderson, who took charge of the beleaguered department after Carona stepped down in January.

"We must collect facts accurately and present them accordingly," he said. "Anything less is unprofessional, and anyone who would engage in that should be removed from the profession and shouldn't be a cop anymore."

christine.hanley@latimes.com, stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com, christian.berthelsen@latimes.com



Caught in trap of their own words

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03/12/2008

Sanctimonious speeches trip them up every time

Do as I say, not as I do.

With those words - our beloved motto - we bid you welcome to the newly opened National Museum of Hypocrisy, and the unveiling of our new Hypocrites Hall of Fame.

This way, please.

Everybody has engaged in hypocrisy - from the publicly fallen TV evangelist to the parents sipping cocktails while warning their children of the dangers of drink.

But clearly, some do a much better job of it than others, and it is in honor of them that we have constructed this museum, which, if it really existed, would be in Washington.

Our mission is to pay homage to hypocrisy, and, as a nonprofit organization, we appreciate any donations you make so that our curator can have a huge salary and luxurious lifestyle.

We'll get to the Hall of Fame in a moment, but first we'd like to direct your attention to some of our other features, and let you know that, if you have further questions after the tour, you can reach our telephone help line anytime between 1 p.m. and 1:03 p.m. Your call is very important to us, which is why you'll be speaking to a recording.

We begin with a definition of hypocrisy, a noun: "Feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion."

In other words, "do as I say, not as I do," a phrase, by the way, that first appeared in English jurist John Selden's Table Talk (copyright 1654).

To your right is our auditorium. It should be noted that eight renowned scholars in the area of ethics and morals from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Penn, Rutgers and Georgetown, were invited to be here today to give you their thoughts on this topic, but none could make it. Two said they were too busy, two said they didn't feel qualified to comment and four didn't return calls or e-mails.

We had hoped to have a panel discussion on whether hypocrisy was on the rise in America - if the seemingly increasing number of people getting caught doing exactly the thing they have spent much of their lives speaking out against is an indication of lapsing values, or if it's just a matter of, with so much new technology, more people getting caught.

Instead, if you'll follow me, we will go directly to the tour of the Hypocrites Hall of Fame, which begins in the Politicians Wing - our largest. We start with our newest addition ...

Eliot Spitzer, New York governor: As attorney general, he had a reputation as a relentless prosecutor, including two cases involving prostitution rings in Staten Island, N.Y. After 16 arrests in connection with an escort service operation, he spoke publicly of the operation with "revulsion," The New York Times reported. This week, it came out that he was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet an employee of Emperors Club VIP in a room at Washington's Renaissance Mayflower Hotel. In a news conference, he apologized and called it "a private matter."

Larry Craig, Idaho senator: Accused in June of disorderly conduct after his arrest during an investigation of "lewd conduct" in an airport men's room in Minnesota. Craig entered a guilty plea (which he's now trying to withdraw through the Minnesota Court of Appeals), but denied he was gay. His voting record certainly isn't gay-friendly. He voted, in 1996, for the Defense of Marriage Act, and against a bill prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2006, he voted to cut off debate on a proposed constitutional amendment on gay marriage.

Mark Foley, former congressman from Florida: An outspoken proponent of long sentences for Internet predators, he was accused of sending sexually explicit notes on the Internet to young male congressional pages. After being confronted with the messages he had sent, Foley acknowledged he was gay, denied that any contact had occurred and resigned.

David Vitter, Louisiana senator: A politician who perennially campaigned on themes of family values, morality and ethics - until last July's disclosure that his phone number was among those on a list of client numbers kept by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam. Vitter admitted to a "very serious sin in my past," and is still in office.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House: Led the U.S. House of Representatives drive to impeach former President Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, only to admit last year that he was having an extra-marital affair with a congressional assistant at the time. "There are times I have fallen short of my own standards," he said.

Robert A. McKee, former Maryland delegate: A 29-year veteran state representative from Hagerstown, he sponsored the "Child Protection from Predators Act" as well as a bill to collect DNA samples from sexual predators. On Jan. 31, his home was raided and pictures of naked children were seized. He resigned, saying. "For me, this is deeply embarrassing. It reflects poorly on my service to the community."

We take you now to our Pundit Wing, which, as with the others, consists of people caught in lies. If you are starting to think there might be a connection between how much someone talks, and getting caught in hypocritical lies, you are on to something. After all, who talks more than ...

Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio talk show host: "Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country," he told his listeners in 1995. "If people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up." Ten years later, Limbaugh took a leave from his show after he was charged with illegally obtaining pain pills, to which he was addicted.

Moving on, this is our Self-Help Author Wing, and we'll just mention a couple of its members, starting with the largest portrait, that of ...

William Bennett, former secretary of education and virtue guru: The author of the Book of Virtues, and at least 10 other books setting the standard for proper behavior, admitted in 2003 to a gambling problem - one that some reports said led him to spending as much as $8 million. Since then, he's gone on to make frequent appearances on TV decrying the collapse of values and morals in the country.

Barbara DeAngelis, love expert: She's sold millions of books about how to make relationships work, and been divorced six times, one of them from Mars and Venus guy John Gray.

We'll move on now to our second largest wing, that which honors hypocrites in the field of religion.

That blank wall over there is reserved for a future exhibit on Catholic priests, but let me introduce you now to those whose portraits hang here:

James Bakker, televangelist: The former Assemblies of God minister who hosted the PTL Club with his then-wife Tammy Faye Bakker was brought down by a sex scandal - in part brought to light by fellow evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. After the adultery charges led to Bakker's resignation, he was convicted of charges related to accounting fraud and was imprisoned.

Jimmy Swaggart, televangelist: After exposing Bakker's sexual indiscretions, and denouncing him as a "cancer in the body of Christ," Swaggart was followed by a private detective who tracked him to a Louisiana motel room that he was sharing with a prostitute. Rather than give in to blackmail, Swaggart came clean in a teary televised confession in 1988. Swaggart returned to his televised pulpit after a suspension, but in 1991, he was found in his car in the company of another prostitute.

As we head toward the exit, please note the donation box to your right, our last stop today is the Foyer of Famous Quotations, each relating to hypocrisy. We have used only recycled paper for this display, the last load of which I carried in from my SUV this morning.

We'll allow you to spend a few quiet moments here reflecting before you depart.

"Hypocrisy is a revolting, psychopathic state." (Anton Chekhov)

"Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot, like adultery or gluttony, be practiced at spare moments; it is a whole-time job." (W. Somerset Maugham)

"It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime." (Thomas Payne)

"Many of us believe that wrongs aren't wrong if it's done by nice people like ourselves." (Author Unknown)

"Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all." ( William Shakespeare)

"One should examine oneself a very long time before thinking of condemning others." (Moliere)

john.woestendiek@baltsun.com



GA - They called me a child pornographer

View the article here

07/18/2006

I took some photos of my kids naked on a camping trip. A drugstore employee called the police -- and my family's life became a living hell.

By Jody Jenkins

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2004, I took my three kids camping in Mistletoe State Park near Augusta, Ga., with my best friend and his two kids. After six years in Savannah, my family was about to move to France for my wife's new job as an administrator for an American company. We had all been camping together before and figured the trip would be a great getaway from all of the packing, painting and stresses of moving, and would allow the kids to be together for one last time. Our wives decided to stay home to organize the packing and spend some quiet time together to say goodbye.

For us, camping has always been a back-to-basics experience. We pack in all food and supplies to our remote site and take out trash and whatever is not consumed. For toilets, we dig holes with entrenching shovels and cover our traces. We teach our kids respect and responsibility in the forest. And we teach them to have a good time.

During the three-day weekend trip, we fished and cooked kielbasa, hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire. We pitched our tents near the tip of a small peninsula jutting into Clarks Hill Lake, where red clay beaches rimmed our site. We scoured the water's edge for mussel shells and arrowheads and skipped sleek stones on the water. The days were clear and cool, with high blue skies and wisps of moving clouds. Although the nights were cold, the weekend was as perfect as we could have hoped for.

The kids ran from one thing to the next with abandon, one minute scavenging wood for a fire, and the next returning breathlessly to tell us they had spotted a deer. At night, the tall pines sawed in the wind as my friend, whom I'll refer to as Rusty, melted aluminum cans in the campfire using a tin can as a crucible. His crude alchemy and the sudden sense of the world as laboratory lighted our imaginations as he poured the quicksilver-like liquid over the rocks ringing the fire. The kids grew excited and impatient, studying the metal-coated rocks and waiting for the aluminum to cool into odd-shaped medallions they salvaged as mementos.

Later, after the kids had gone to bed in their tent and the cold descended, Rusty and I sat in our camp chairs, having a beer and warming our boots a little too close to the fire. I still wear that pair of Wolverines with the half-melted soles. And every time I put them on, I think of what happened when we returned from that weekend and how it changed all of our lives.

As usual during the trip, we took several photos. Because I forgot my digital camera, I bought a disposable camera at a gas station on the way to the campground. I took pictures of the kids using sticks to beat on old bottles and cans and logs as musical instruments. I took a few of my youngest daughter, Eliza, then age 3, skinny-dipping in the lake, and my son, Noah, then age 8, swimming in the lake in his underwear, and another of Noah naked, hamming it up while using a long stick to hold his underwear over the fire to dry. Finally, I took a photo of everyone, as was our camping tradition, peeing on the ashes of the fire to put it out for the last time. We also let the kids take photos of their own.

When we returned on Sunday, I forgot the throwaway camera and Rusty found it in his car. He gave it to his wife, whom I'll call Janet, to get developed, and she dropped it off the next day with two other rolls of film at a local Eckerd drugstore. On Tuesday, when she returned to pick up the film, she was approached by two officers from the Savannah Police Department. They told her they had been called by Eckerd due to "questionable photos."

One officer told Janet "there were pictures of little kids running around with no clothes on, pictures of minors drinking alcohol," she recounted for me in an e-mail. "I asked to see the pictures and was told I couldn't. I explained there must be a mistake. I was kind of laughing, you know, 'Come on guys. There must be an explanation. This is crazy. Let me see the pictures.' The officer told me that he personally did not find [the photos] offensive and that he had camped himself as a kid and knows what goes on." But the officer also told Janet that "because Eckerd's had called them and that because there were pictures of children naked, genitalia and alcohol, they would have to investigate."

Janet asked the photo lab clerk what was on the photos and the clerk "replied very seriously that they were bad, that there was one that looked like a child's head had been cut off, one with children drinking beer and pictures of naked kids." As she drove to her house, Janet said, "I was in shock and felt sick to the pit of my stomach and was trying to process all of it." She called my wife, who was driving home, and explained what had happened. Sensing how bad this might become, my wife pulled her car to the side of the road and fought the urge to throw up.

Neither my wife nor I, Rusty nor Janet has a criminal record of any sort. Yet over the next several weeks, the Savannah Police Department and the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) investigated us for "child pornography" and then "sexual exploitation of a minor." We suffered the embarrassment of having DFCS interview our family, friends, employers and our children's teachers, asking them whether we were suitable parents and what kind of relationship we had with our kids.

During that time, my wife and I, our children and friends, lived in a kind of suspended animation, a limbo of unreality where our privacy was invaded and we were stripped of our sense of dignity and seemingly our rights. To be accused unjustly of any crime is a terrible thing. But to be accused of using your own children for pornographic purposes or sexual exploitation bears a special taint because no matter how highly people think of you, they don't know you in your most intimate moments, which forever leaves you open to suspicion.

Being investigated for child pornography is so grave that people might assume it has to be based in fact. And yet I would learn, as so many other horrified parents have, that it can begin simply by somebody picking up the phone.

"It's not going to be a big deal," Rusty told my wife, not long after we all heard the news. But after Rusty's initial visit to the police station to explain the photos to the officers, our optimism began to wane. "It was evident the police did not view us as innocent until proven guilty," Rusty told me in a recent e-mail. "I sought out the officer in charge of the unit that investigates these 'crimes,' and when he finally agreed to meet with me he was rude, unprofessional, and very accusatory before hearing from anyone involved."

The police, however, didn't file any charges against us. But they had digitized six of the photos and sent copies to DFCS for further investigation, which is standard practice in such cases. The officers wouldn't let Rusty see any of the photos in the station, and so we had no idea what was on them, as we had allowed the kids to take photos of their own. One of the photos, an officer said, showed a child drinking beer.

After our case was turned over to DFCS, we began what seemed like an excruciatingly long period of waiting to hear what would come next. As the days ticked by, Janet told me, "It was impossible for me to function, concentrate or focus on work. I couldn't eat, felt sick and scared." My wife and I began to question even our routine judgment because of a sudden awareness of being observed by some unseen entity that seemed everywhere and nowhere at once. A hug or a quick goodnight kiss with our little girls and boy suddenly seemed questionable. Were my hands in the wrong place? Did that kiss on the corner of the lips of my 3-year-old look more than merely innocent to someone? A pat on the bum as our kids ran past suddenly seemed dangerous through our second-guessing, suddenly all-critical eye.

Each intimate moment entailed a profound searching, an almost paralytic invasion of our deepest privacy. We began to observe ourselves until each moment became one long scrutiny and the pressure it created in our daily lives grew and grew. We feared that if we were found guilty, our children would be taken away and put in a foster home. We worried about my wife's new job in France because we might have to stay in the U.S. to fight any charges. Everything was pure assumption because DFCS didn't communicate at all and so we were left to imagine the worst.

Our friend Rusty stood to lose his prominent job in government, which he had held for years, simply from the appearances of the investigation. "I waited in constant anxiety of the wildfire of whispers about my arrest for being a child pornographer, molester or worse," he said. "It was terrifying."

At this point, our children, who were already stressed by the upcoming move and leaving their schools and friends, were unaware of what was happening. Like Janet and Rusty, we tried to keep it that way by not discussing the case around them. But our kids knew by our blank stares and depressed demeanor that something was seriously wrong. As the pressure grew, my wife and I began to lose our tempers more often over small, simple things. I would explode when my daughter spilled a glass of Juicy Juice at the dinner table or overreact and deny everything when the kids would ask us if there was something wrong. And then I would be overcome with guilt and shame at my inability to take control of what was happening to us.

At night, my wife and I lay side by side in bed in the darkness, staring up into the ceiling, unable any longer to find words in the face of the vast, voidlike possibility of losing our children based on pure accusation. It was a secret too painful to keep but impossible to talk about to anyone else. We felt ashamed simply by association with the charge. As a journalist, I have lived for weeks in terrible conditions in war refugee camps and been under fire on the battlefield. But those weeks of waiting and wondering what would happen to our family were by far the most stressful I have ever experienced.

On the advice of my wife's mother, a former Florida public utilities commissioner, we contacted Mills Fleming, a local lawyer who was also a childhood friend of my wife. We needed expert help navigating the accusations. He told us that when he contacted the Office of Child Protection at the Chatham Department of Family and Children Services, the agency was surprised and annoyed that we had retained a lawyer. We were shocked it wasn't routine.

But that was the least of his revelations. We soon discovered that we had no right to retain a lawyer on our children's behalf. DFCS would become protector of our children and judge as to the validity of the charges against us. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty had been turned on its head: The burden had been placed on us, not the legal system, to prove our innocence. Our most basic right and instinct as parents -- to protect our children -- had been usurped by a single accusation.

Over the next few weeks, our only communication with DFCS was through Mills. He told us the agency would call on Thanksgiving and announce what they were going to do about our case. We had planned to leave for the long weekend but stayed home and waited for word from DFCS. They never called.

Afterward, I spent the days taking the kids off to school and preparing the house, climbing up nearly three stories on a ladder to paint. At times I became so lost in an absorbing daydream of sorting through the events that I almost stepped right off the ladder. Terrified at my complete lack of awareness, I would force myself to focus. I would dip my brush into the paint and drift off into the possibility of what might happen if a police officer or sheriff's deputy appeared at our front door with papers to take our children. As I stroked the brush along the boards, I became lost in intricate, heated conversations that led to arguments that devolved into helpless anger. We had no understanding of the process and the DFCS bureaucracy seemed some large, amorphous beast threatening us from just beyond our view.

I began to feel dangerously angry. When my anger and fear were such that I was having difficulty coping, I called my brother in North Carolina, who knew nothing about the charges. He is two years older than I am and we have always been close. I thought he might help me put things into some sort of perspective. I wanted to call him numerous times but I hesitated because of my shame. I wanted to solve this on my own.

But now I felt I was starting to come apart and feared I might do something that could wind me up in jail. I had no choice but to call. But he wasn't home and when his answering machine came on, the sudden realization of what was happening to me, and the reason I was reaching out to him, caused me to simply break down and cry. I hung up without leaving a message and he told me later that from the crying on the phone, he was certain someone close to us had died.

As Christmas approached, our lawyer felt that the DFCS investigation into sexual exploitation of a minor was running aground because the agency began airing the possibility of charging us with a lesser crime. Now they wanted to hit us with "endangerment of a child," the result of letting the kids be near an open campfire. The suggestion seemed absurd, given that nearly every weekend of the year, parents across the country go camping with their children and roast marshmallows over an open fire. My wife, our friends and I felt that DFCS was on a fishing expedition, but one with potentially dangerous consequences.

The agency had requested to interview our children at the Childrens Advocacy Center, a safe haven used for questioning children who have been sexually or physically abused, or have witnessed violence. But we resisted because we were not allowed to have a lawyer present and we had heard horror stories from teachers who had witnessed sessions of children being fed leading questions and being directed what to answer by caseworkers. We requested that any interviews be taped. DFCS relented and switched the meeting to the Office of Child Protection.

The change in venue and charge against us was seen by our lawyer as a stand-down. He felt DFCS realized it had a weak case and the interviews were essentially a procedural hoop the caseworker had to jump through to satisfy bureaucratic demands in order to exit the case. I was angry at what appeared to be an absurd game with our lives. But Mills told me I had to get a grip because my anger could undermine our case. Although I heard him, acting accordingly was another matter.

Finally one weekday afternoon, my wife and I, our friends and our kids convened at the Office of Child Protection of DFCS to be interviewed. We had still not been charged with anything and the investigation remained open-ended. When I picked the kids up from school, I explained on the drive back where we were going and why. I struggled because while I wanted them to know everything that was stake, I didn't want to frighten them. They were full of questions. They wanted to know who these people were, why they wanted to talk about our camping trip and what kind of questions they would ask. The questions were the same ones I had myself and yet hearing the children pose them brought back all the absurdity of the situation and my anger quickly surfaced. I blurted out, "I don't know! I don't know! But these people can take you away from us!"

"They can take us away?" one of them asked.

"I don't know!" I yelled. "I don't know anything!" And when I looked in the rearview mirror I could see tears running down their faces as they began to cry.

The Office of Child Protection was housed in a new building, recently relocated from downtown Savannah into a poor neighborhood. Directly across the street was Hitch Village, one of the city's most notorious housing projects in a city that in several recent years has been ranked among the most dangerous metropolitan areas in the country. As we stepped into the elevator -- all dressed in our best, all combed and neat because we knew now how much appearances mattered -- our families suddenly seemed so vulnerable.

The waiting room was neat and sterile and empty except for us. No window. No attendant. No one to tell us what to do or expect. We weren't even sure if we were in the right place. But after a moment we decided to sit in the chairs that lined the walls, a surveillance camera with its wide-angle lens staring down on us. Magnetic strip readers were mounted beside each door along the hallways and from time to time someone would emerge from one door, slide their card through a reader on another and quickly disappear into it. I was struggling to find some calm and balance, but I didn't trust anyone's judgment anymore and was seething at this moment so lacking in logic.

When our caseworker, Patricia Oney, finally appeared, the amorphous bureaucracy that for weeks had haunted us suddenly had a face. That she appeared gentle with the kids and intelligent and caring gave me a small ray of hope. She explained that we would go one at a time, beginning with the kids, and she and our 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, Noah's twin, disappeared into the maze of cubicles hidden behind the card-reading doors. As we were soon to learn ourselves, the interviews were not recorded on video or tape.

Sophie has a keen memory for details and when she returned, and Noah went in, she recounted the questions that had been posed. They ranged from whether she could distinguish between "good touch" and "bad touch" to whether, after the kids went to bed while camping, the fathers made sounds outside the tent that, in the words of my daughter, "sounded like things they shouldn't do."

When our son returned, he didn't want to talk about what happened except to question why he was being asked about good touching and bad touching. One after another the kids went in. Eliza, our 3-year-old, has wispy, bright-blond hair. As she disappeared behind the door, I couldn't help wondering what it was they might ask her and, given what had happened so far, how it might be construed. We sat in the waiting room, trying to occupy the remaining kids while waiting. There was a gravity to the moment that the children were aware of and everyone was mostly quiet. As each of the kids reappeared from their interviews, they seemed relieved.

When my turn came, I followed Oney back to a cubicle where an assistant sat with pad in hand. As we sat down and began to talk, the assistant seemed to take notes. But as it went along, I noticed she hardly wrote anything. Though I was tempted to call her on it because it seemed absurd that this might become the official record, I didn't want to antagonize them and remembered the lawyer's intuition that DFCS was looking for a way out. But I was thinking about how accurately she had noted what the children had said.

Oney's main concern seemed not to be with the photos or with our behavior as parents, but rather if I had any questions about what had happened and about the process as a whole. Although I had nothing but questions, I refrained from asking them. I wanted to put the camping trip in context. Because the police had only sent six photos to DFCS, and not the rest of the roll, Oney had never gotten the full story.

Also, by now, I had seen all of the photos, including the six in question, as the police had allowed Rusty to take them home with him. There were explanations for each one. The photo of a child whose head had been "cut off" was simply one where a child's head fell outside the border. The photo of a child drinking beer was actually one of Rusty's daughter carrying a broken beer bottle she had found and planned to put into her makeshift xylophone.

I began explaining to Oney that by camping, our aim was to take our kids out of their normal routine and to teach them to appreciate not only nature but the luxuries our daily life afforded. As I told her that we dug holes for latrines and covered our traces, Oney, who said she had never been camping, seemed genuinely surprised. When she asked me about the danger of my son drying his wet pants with a stick over an open fire, I explained that when I took the picture, I was no more than a few feet away and he was safe.

As I felt my anger rising, I told her I couldn't believe anybody would find a photograph of a 3-year-old making her way into a lake to skinny-dip titillating. I had wiped my daughter's bottom thousands of times, and for me that photo was nothing more than trying to capture a fond memory. I acknowledged the difficulty and necessity of her job, but explained that for me this was clearly a case of the system gone astray, and I was angry that it had gone as far as it had.

Oney responded by asking for the names of friends, family, employers, teachers and any others she might interview to discern what type of people and parents we were. We decided it was best to call everyone in advance so they would know to expect a call. I watched my wife break down and cry on the phone with one of our children's teachers, ashamed at having to explain why DFCS would be calling.

Janet felt the same way. "I was so embarrassed having to tell [my youngest daughter's] teacher," she wrote. "I was the room mother for the class, did lots of things with all the kids and was very involved at school." "Can you imagine telling your boss, 'I'm being investigated for child pornography and child endangerment?'" Rusty wrote. "This was incredibly embarrassing and increased my fears this would get out beyond our control."

Oney had told me she would be paying a visit to our house. Our lawyer said she could look anywhere -- in our drawers, closets, attic -- without a warrant or without specifically stating what she was looking for. So before she came, we scoured the house top to bottom, looking for anything that might arouse her suspicion or interest.

On the mantel in our living room was a handmade book of photos done by a friend who is a professional photographer. Besides mundane photos of the kids, it contained a few of my wife in the nude when she was several months pregnant with Eliza. We hid it. I scanned the book titles on the shelves, never having thought until now of their having questionable contents. On the refrigerator, we had 1950s-style magnets with humorous sketches of a man holding up a mug and saying, "Beer: Makes you see double and feel single," and another of a man holding up a condom and saying, "I'm just two people short of a minage à trois." They had been given to us years before as a gag gift from a friend. We hid them. We realized we no idea what could be deemed unfit. My wife was born in Haiti and she had a beaded voodoo flag hanging up in our room. I took it down.

Janet and Rusty went through the same nerve-racking process. On the day Oney was to show up at their house, Janet noticed her neighbor's 3-year-old son playing naked on the swing set in their yard. Janet was so paranoid that Oney would show up right then "that I panicked, went to the neighbor, and told her that I was having a visit from DFCS and could she please remove her naked son from my yard. I was upset that I was put in the situation that I had to tell her."

My wife and I decided, given my anger at the situation, it was best that I not be there during our home visit. So I drove around the neighborhood and sat in the car until Oney left. In the end, she didn't even search the house. She told my wife the investigation was closed, that the case against us was unsubstantiated and no further action would be taken. My wife said Oney seemed apologetic but offered no apology. The same scenario was played out at Janet and Rusty's house. Despite the fact that the case was unsubstantiated, a record of the accusation and ensuing investigation will be kept on file for three years -- in case, we were told by our lawyer, other complaints should be filed against us. Our children's records will show the incident until they are 21 years old.

Shortly after our case ended, we moved to France and I slipped into a depression. Perhaps it was something akin to the helplessness that victims feel. Or perhaps it resulted from suddenly being released from the constant and intense pressures of moving, combined with the fear and anger we had been feeling for so long. But I felt violated and exposed and vulnerable. In the mornings, we would awake and prepare our children and then hurry them to school. And on many days when I returned home, instead of getting to work writing I would go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet and cry uncontrollably.

For months, I felt as though I was moving almost unconsciously through daily life, numb to the world and yet overly sensitive to everything. Finally one day, six months later, unable to bear the sense of helplessness and unjustified shame about what happened to us, I sat down at the computer and began to write about it. And I began to feel something shift inside me, a subtle but distinct change from a sense of powerlessness to taking back some sort of control of our lives. I wrote in a fury, and when I sent the story to my wife, she sat in her office and cried. I sent it to our friends who had gone through this with us. Although seven months had passed, they still had not come to terms with what had happened. Rusty's boss had been understanding, but they said their children still talked about it in the most unexpected moments. "My youngest daughter will say, 'Why did they think that, Mommy?'" Janet said. "'Why did they think we were drinking beer and doing things wrong?'"

I set out to answer those kinds of question myself. As I did, I discovered there are simply no uniform standards for police officers, teachers, childcare workers -- or photo lab employees -- to tell lewd and illegal photos from harmless family pictures.

Following passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, established in 1974, states established laws that required police, lawyers, and social and medical personnel to make "good faith" reports of perceived child abuse or neglect. It is an important law, having arisen out of the fact that one in 10 children brought to hospital emergency rooms was a victim of physical abuse. But the law, under which child pornography falls, contains no provision for training personnel to identify abuse or pornographic photos. As a result, false and damning allegations have risen by the thousands in the past three decades. In fact, in most states it's a misdemeanor for law enforcement officers and health providers not to report.

In Georgia, state law defines sexual exploitation of a minor, which includes pornography, as "knowingly to employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, or coerce any minor to engage in ... any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual medium depicting such conduct." Yes, no charges were filed against us. But that somebody could interpret our camping photos as knowingly pornographic, and cause the state to investigate us for intending to exploit our children, was what was so agonizing.

Dr. Douglas Besharov, a child abuse expert at the Maryland School of Public Affairs, and the first director of the U.S. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, estimates that out of the nearly 3 million child abuse reports made every year, seven in 10 of them are without merit. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 60 percent of child abuse or neglect reports are "unsubstantiated." While there are no separate statistics concerning child pornography, there have been dozens of cases similar to ours documented in recent years.

For instance, in Dallas in 2003, as the result of a complaint by an Eckerd drugstore employee, a 33-year-old woman was charged with "sexual performance of a child," a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison, based on a picture of her breast-feeding her 1-year-old son. Although the district attorney dropped the charges in the case, the parents had to fight for weeks to get their two children back from the Dallas County Child Protective Services.

I realize no one would argue with sincere efforts to protect children from harm. As a parent, I know all too well the real dangers our kids face on a daily basis and I applaud any efforts to make their world a safer place. But our experience underscores the harm that is being inflicted on children and parents by investigations based on uninformed definitions of pornography or abuse.

"If we get down to the bottom line, there is no clear-cut definition," said Dean Tong, who wrote "Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused," after being jailed and then spending 10 years and $150,000 to clear himself of abusing his young daughter. Now a forensic consultant in thousands of false-accusation cases across the country, Tong told me that even most police officers are not well enough trained to interpret the law, let alone photo lab employees. Tong said that when facing the slightest doubt, law enforcement officers "err on the side of the child," noting the potential results: "I see families stripped and ripped apart in the middle of the night."

I called Lt. Harry Trawick of the newly consolidated Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department to ask about my own case. He is the former head of the Special Victims Unit, which deals with child pornography. "A lot of times [photo lab employees] don't know what pornography is," he told me. Although he wouldn't comment on any specific case, Trawick said the department is "fairly aggressive" in investigating reports of child pornography and that, "generally, our officers are going to act with an abundance of caution" in favor of protecting the rights of children. He said the department has made a number of important convictions based on reports from photo labs. He added that he's unaware of any training programs that photo lab employees are required to undergo to identify child pornography and said the employees often call the Special Victims Unit for an explanation of the law.

But Helene Bisson, director of public relations for the Jean Coutu Group, which operates the Rhode Island-based Brooks/Eckerd drugstores, told me that employees had "videos we have to view and information sessions," though she wouldn't specify the depth of training involved. "As far as Eckerd's is concerned we do have very strict guidelines," she said. "It's Eckerd policy to report all incidents of child abuse and child pornography."

"With all due respect, they don't have a freaking clue," said Tong. "I'm not saying most of these cases are witch hunts," he said. It's just that without strict guidelines for identifying child pornography, photo lab employees must resort to "their subjective discretion and opinion," and that's the root of the problem. "If we required the same concern for accuracy in reporting child abuse as other types of crimes, we would see far fewer innocent people falsely persecuted," Tong has written. At the very least, a pair of trained legal eyes -- those of either a lawyer or a public official with specific expertise in child pornography -- should look at the evidence and make an informed decision before starting this demeaning, costly and painful process.

Besharov also said that the current law should be amended to grant immunity to those who in good faith deem a situation not to be child abuse or pornography. That way, those who report cases of abuse of questionable merit, simply to err on the side of mandatory reporting laws, might feel less pressure to do so. In our case, maybe the responding officer, who initially commented that he didn't find the pictures pornographic, would have dismissed the case at the drugstore and not reported us to child services.

It has been over a year and a half since the day we got the call from Janet. Time has finally granted me some distance from the terrible ordeal, and my wife and I have become lost in the immediate demands of life in another language and culture. We live in a small village of about 400 people, what a French friend jokingly refers to as the "bled," the Moroccan-Arabic word for the "boondocks." The surrounding countryside is mostly farmland and in the searing summer heat the air smells of rosemary and lavender. The fall brings out the truffle hunters and wild boars. My wife's commute to work is about two minutes up a steep, stone-paved street that has been worn shiny by centuries of foot traffic. From her office perch high up on the hillside, you can look out across the cherry orchards covering the valley and hear the shouts of the 30 or so children playing in the village schoolyard below. Our kids among them.



ME - Bill toughens law on visual sexual aggression against children in Maine

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04/06/2008

By Dave Choate (dchoate@seacoastonline.com)

Those who peer at children in public could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Maine soon.

A bill that passed the House last month aims to strengthen the crime of visual sexual aggression against children, according to state Rep. Dawn Hill (Email), D-York.

Her involvement started when Ogunquit Police Lt. David Alexander was called to a local beach to deal with a man who appeared to be observing children entering the community bathrooms. Because the state statute prevents arrests for visual sexual aggression of a child in a public place, Alexander said he and his fellow officer could only ask the man to move along.

"There was no violation of law that we could enforce. There was nothing we could charge him with," Alexander said.

He attended a talk with Hill a week later and brought the case to her attention. Hill pledged to do what she could, Alexander said, and the result was a change through the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in the House, which made the law applicable in both private and public places.

Alexander said he's grateful Hill was willing to take up the cause, and is hopeful the measure will clear the Senate.

"I'll be pleased that we were able to identify this flaw and take steps to rectify it," he said.

Under the bill, if someone is arrested for viewing children in a public place, it would be a Class D felony if the child is between 12 to 14 years old and a Class C felony if the child is under 12, according to Alexander.

Hill said she believes the move was necessary to correct what she called a "loophole" in the state's criminal law statutes.

"I told Lt. Alexander that I would be happy to work with him and sponsor a bill that would correct this in the 2008 session," Hill said. "And so we did."

In arguing for the bill, Alexander said she cited public rest rooms as places where the people using them should have a reasonable expectation of privacy. She said the committee determined that there would not be any major side effects from expanding the statute to include public places.

The bill recently cleared a fiscal review, done because of the state's major prison budget crunch, and Hill said it should be heading to the Senate before long.

York Police Chief Doug Bracy said the statute would represent a fairly minor change that would help keep the public safer, especially children. He noted that York police respond fairly regularly to reports of public peepers on the town's beaches.

With ever-growing concern over sexual predators, Bracy said the arrests will also allow police to check backgrounds and determine if there is a criminal history involved.

"There is a growing outcry by the public to protect our children," Bracy said, noting that tourists from all over the country visit York.



GA - 133 now on Coweta sex offender list

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04/13/2008

By ELIZABETH RICHARDSON (erichardson@newnan.com)

In one year's time, the Coweta County Sex Offender list jumped from 96 registered county residents to 133 — nine of whom are currently incarcerated and four of whom have absconded.

Sgt. Mike McGuffey of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office is charged with single-handedly maintaining and enforcing the list. Included on the list are people who have been convicted of such sex crimes as rape, child molestation, incest, public indecency, peeping tom and enticing children for indecent purposes.

So why the drastic increase in the number of registered sex offenders?

"I think it's because over the past several years we've implemented much stricter laws," said McGuffey. "This year particularly, there were a lot of people who got out of prison. The list is going to keep increasing."

Georgia's sex offender laws changed July 1, 2006, creating the need for consistent enforcement within the sheriff's office. Senate Bill 1 was originally passed in 2007 introducing new residency and work restrictions that were so strict they caused a mass exodus of registered sex offenders out of Atlanta and into the surrounding suburbs.

A revised version of SB 1 passed during the last days of the 2008 Georgia General Assembly session and is awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature into law.

"The revised law basically stipulates that if you own a house and someone builds a school or a church across the street, you're exempt from moving because you were there first," explained McGuffey.

However, the bill only exempts sex offenders who own their own homes, and not renters. One woman made the argument to the state legislature that studies clearly show that sex offenders who have to move from a stable home or job are more likely to re-offend. Still another argued that treating sex offenders who are homeowners differently from renters is unconstitutional.

McGuffey was willing to bet that not even half of the sex offenders on Coweta's list own their own residence.

Either way, the law states that no sex offender may live within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, a church, a school or an "area where minors congregate." Those areas are defined as: parks, recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums, school bus stops, public libraries and public and community swimming pools. The addition of libraries to places where children congregate is the only change to that definition in the new SB 1.

"I find that having strict residency restrictions causes offenders to be more apt to go underground," said McGuffey. "I have had problems with people getting out of prison who don't have a flurry of family members they can stay with and who don't have a lot of means — those people are more likely to not check in with me. A lot of them get frustrated and go somewhere and vanish.

"The main reason for the registry is supposed to be to keep track of them," McGuffey continued. On the flip side, the increased awareness and vigilance of the community enables people to arm themselves against would-be sexual predators by keeping an eye on them.

The work restrictions outlined in SB 1 aren't quite as severe as the residency restrictions.

The average sex offender can't work or volunteer at a child care facility, school or church, or at any business that is within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, school or church. Those classified as sexually dangerous predators also can't work or volunteer within 1,000 feet of an area where minors congregate.

Additionally, a registered sex offender can't loiter at a child care facility, school or area where minors congregate.
- And you will notice, it says "LOITER" which means being somewhere without a purpose, so if they go there to pick up a child or drop a child off, it's not loitering, but, people tend to interpret this as meaning you cannot be there period, which is wrong... Read the definition here. Based on this definition alone, it does not mean you cannot go to these places, you just cannot "LOITER" there.

Loitering means just that — being at a place without an apparent purpose. The law doesn't prevent sex offenders from going to church, watching their children play sports, or visiting a park for normal purposes.

The bill also states that a sex offender who owned property, or had established employment prior to July 1, 2006, is not in violation of the law, even if the property or employment is within 1,000 feet of a prohibited location.

"The registry does help keep track of the sex offenders," said McGuffey. "But, basically, I don't know if keeping them 1,000 feet away from areas where children congregate makes much of a difference — and people have to live somewhere. The majority of re-offenders I see result from those who have intentionally not informed me that they've moved into a violation zone."

According to McGuffey, if he were to enforce and maintain the sex offender list the way it's recommended, the task would take up 100 percent of his time as an investigator at the sheriff's office.

"It's already a full-time job," said McGuffey. "[The list] constantly fluctuates, but it's steadily increasing. When the new law goes into effect (probably this summer), we're going to get more, and our offender list is going to increase. At some point, we're going to have to have two employees working to maintain the sex offender registry."

All in all, though, McGuffey maintains that the registry does serve its purpose.

"It's paid for itself a thousand times over, as far as I'm concerned."